BMW Motorrad’s professional motorcycle stunter, Mattie Griffin, reveals the secrets to becoming a gravity-defying stunt biker
Text & Photos: Derryn Wong
Despite what it looks like, the man in this photo is not crashing his motorcycle but is in fact, in full control of the situation.
That man is professional stunt rider Mattie Griffin, from Galway, Ireland.
Griffin, 37, travels the world putting on stunt shows and displays, and was recently in town for BMW’s Pure & Crafted Festival Singapore 2018.
He’s been involved in stunt bikes since 2004 where he won 14th place in the World Stunt Riding Championships in his inaugural attempt, and bettered that to fifth place in 2008 and 2009.
Stunt riding, the art of doing unconventional tricks and feats on a motorcycle has only recently entered the mainstream. Wheelies and stoppies are only the beginning, with high-level professionals like Griffin performing feats such as no-hands, 360-spins and instant dismounts.
Like the four-wheeled motorsport of drifting, it may look like mere fun and games to the untrained eye, but is actually every bit as challenging and demanding as conventional motorsport.
As Mattie says, he lets his stunt show do the talking for him, it’s flamboyant, entertaining, and leaves showgoers with a new respect of what a motorcycle is capable of.
But in person, Griffin is personable, soft-spoken, and totally forthcoming about the nature of his sport. We sat down with him to find out the proper way of performing cunning, two-wheel stunts of our own.
1. Practise, practise, practise…and more practise.
When he’s not on tour – after Singapore he went on to Vietnam and then Israel for more shows – Mattie practices two hours a day. That almost puts him on the same level as Olympic athletes, in other words.
And while he went into stunt riding full time in 2004, he’s been around bikes much longer than that, having learnt to ride at the age of six.
“Since i was a kid I was just crazy for two wheels, trying to ride backwards, and do silly things on a bike!” he says of his earliest days on motorcycles.
He first started riding trials bikes, where a keen sense of balance and precise control of the throttle and clutch are a necessity. That helped lay the foundations for a future in stunt-riding, and it’s something he continues to do for leisure these days.
“I did a lot of trials riding when I was young, and it’s still quite a big hobby of mine, especially in winter. (In Ireland) I go riding where there’s the mountains, and nothing but just sea, lakes, the sheep, and no phones…nothing to bother you.”
2. Hope for the best, but gear up and be prepared for the worst
Stunt riding has its popular origins in the ‘street scene’ and until today, some professional stunt riders still do not wear protective equipment.
That isn’t a solely aesthetic decision, as stunt riders require precise control and grip to perform stunts that literally require them to clamber all over the motorcycle.
But Griffin is a firm believer in the value of protective gear – he wears a full-face helmet, back protector, mesh jacket, armoured jeans and gloves when stunting. His only ‘regular’ piece of equipment are his shoes, as boots can trip up a stunt biker who needs maximum agility.
“Safety is my number one thing. I’m covered from head to toe in armor. You can still get hurt, of course, but it’s about calculating risk and taking the precautions,” he adds.
Mattie’s own mentor, stunt legend and ex-BMW Motorrad stunter Chris Pfeiffer whose ride up BMW tower in Munich has becoming something of legend, retired in 2015, partly due to the extensive injuries he suffered during his stunt career.
3. Be professional and leave aggressive riding off the street
Mattie knows full well that stunt riding entails risk, but in his case, he had the skills and the chance to make it into a rewarding career – he makes it clear it isn’t for everyone.
“What I do out there, in my show, that didn’t come overnight. Some people look at the bike and say, “Ooh you’ve got a bigger sprocket, I can do that too!”,” he recounts with amused frustration.
CarBuyer has interviewed fighter pilots, racing drivers, and rally drivers amongst others, and Griffin sounds just like those professionals when talking about this role, talking about risk management and thorough practise, it’s far from simply reckless riding.
He knows himself well enough to avoid needless risk, which is why he mostly drives his van at home in Ireland – he’s his own full-time mechanic as well – and has a humble Honda PCX scooter that gets a bit more road time than his own BMW F 800 R.
“I guess the thing with me is if i get on a sportsbike, I want to ride it like a sportsbike… and I think I got away with a lot of things on the street when i was younger. My nine lives are well out at this stage!” he says.
4. Be creative
Stunt riding is a mixture of disciplines. It requires the fine balance of trials riding, the consistent precision of any other road racing, but also has a strong creative element to it. Like freestyle breakdancing or rapping, stunt riding is as much about entertaining the crowd as it it technical skill.
Part of Mattie’s daily training isn’t just to keep his skills sharpened, but it’s also to develop new tricks and feats that others haven’t done before.
“Some guys can do half an hour, or 45-minute shows, but some of that is 15 wheelies and 15 stoppies. I try not to repeat things – my talking is done on the bike itself – and I pack that sort of length into a more entertaining 15 minutes. And I personally like to do more of the technical tricks that are challenging.”
5. Having a reliable bike really helps
Like Pfeiffer before him, Mattie’s ride of choice for stunting is a modified BMW F 800 R.
Being a mechanic, Mattie has always built his own bikes, in the past that’s included a Honda Fireblade and Kawasaki ZX-636, but the F 800 R is a bit special.
To begin with, it’s different from the ‘normal’ stuntbike, which is typically a modified inline-four Japanese sports bike, the F 800 R has a 798cc parallel-twin engine.
“When I first got on the F 800 I was really happy with it honestly – I just gelled with it. And you get a lot respect from other riders, because the F 800 is not an easy bike to throw around like this,” he says.
With all the modifications and abuse thrown at it, you’d expect the F 800 R to receive lots of TLC and regular replacement parts, but Mattie says that isn’t actually the case, as the bike not only performs well out of the box, it’s reliable too.
Besides the obvious differences such as the extra footpegs, the rear ‘grind plate’, engine cage and other protection, everything else is stock. “I have my idle adjuster, I have a handbrake (above the clutch lever), and the protection, but the frame, the suspension and the basics are completely stock.”
He reveals that this bike is his second F 800 R, and is almost five years old, but he’ll replacing the clutch for the first time after this show. “Actually it’s not even worn out, it’s just slipping a little. I’m really happy with the bike as it’s reliable, it does the job. I travel all over the world so it’s great peace of mind for me, knowing that when I put the key in the bike, I know it’ll start.”
6. Learn from the man himself
Mattie reveals that he’s been inundated by request to start a wheelie school, teaching people how to lift the front of the bike while riding in a safe environment, which is why he’ll be setting up one in the very near future.
“The wheelie school is something I’ve been asked to do for years. So I’m going to setup a wheelie school in Ireland, and maybe I will bring it with me and do wheelie workshops around the world too,” he says.