Last week, "Special" Greg Powell, cousin to Travis Pastrana and esteemed member of the Nitro Circus Live crew, unveiled the world's first backflip BMX varial on a BMX bike via YouTube. In the past seven days, the clip has been viewed over 1.5 million times, but we wanted to know more about the man behind the trick. And as it turns out, "Special" Greg Powell isn't what you'd expect. 27-year-old Powell didn't grow up practicing BMX tricks and riding bikes nonstop. Instead, he played more conventional sports, such as football, and played around on his cousin's trampoline bike when the time was right.
After envisioning the backflip varial, a trick he would later coin the "Special Flip," eight years ago, Powell kept the trick in the back of his head and slowly worked his way up to the point of pulling it while on the Australian leg of the Nitro Circus Live Tour. Now back at home in Maryland, Powell describes the physics of the trick, the background behind the trick and whether or not he sees a more consistent future for the trick. This is "Special" Greg Powell, the innovator of the world's first backflip varial on a BMX bike.
ESPN.com: How long have you been trying the Special Flip for?
Powell: I've been working on it for eight years now. I haven't been working on it nonstop per se, it's just been an item in my mind that's kinda been there. It first came about with Travis [Pastrana]. He was looking to expand his abilities jumping freestyle on his dirt bike. One of his tools was a trampoline bicycle. We would take a mountain bike or BMX bike, and take the wheels or pedals off. We would tape up the front fork and tape up the rear so it wouldn't punch a hole through the trampoline, and we would just jump as high as we possibly could. We would try all these imaginary tricks, and make things up. Before you know it, Travis was coming up with new tricks in the FMX world. One of the tricks we rigged up in our minds was this "Special Flip."
How long have you been riding BMX for?
I was a conventional sports athlete, kinda the polar opposite compared to my cousin. I grew up playing soccer. My mom didn't let me play football till 11th grade, so I had a little bit of high school football experience. I played volleyball, I played rugby, I wrestled, and I really enjoyed just being active. But every time I hung out with my cousin, it was a different ballgame. He would have mountain bikes and dirt bikes and BMX bikes and go-carts and things that were adventurous. Off and on, every summer, I would get a little bit of a taste of what jumping a bicycle was like. We would build dirt jumps. And through the years, I've been exposed to a number of professional BMX riders. And I've watched them closely, and seen what Dave Mirra, Chad Kagy, Steve McCann and the list goes on do. More recently, I've been hanging out with Andy Buckworth and Jaie Toohey and these guys are all so progressive that they're changing the sport of BMX. They come up with new tricks all the time. I've been learning so much from those guys, and it's a privilege and an honor to watch them, practice with them, ask them questions and get them to critique my riding. And for this trick to come together, I'm on cloud nine. It's something I've always envisioned on the trampoline bike. I've tried it and tried it and tried it, and I've actually figured out how to make it happen.
Can you walk us through the physics of the trick?
The mechanics of the "Special Flip" are essentially, you're letting go of the bicycle while you're in the air, you yourself are doing a flip of sorts. You have to be able to clear your legs from hitting the handlebars, so it's not a perfect symmetrical flip, but you are inverting yourself and coming around. So when you're coming around, the bike stays as if it's doing a regular straight air jump, and you're doing a flip over the top of the bike. And when you come back around, you're spotting the seat and you're reaching around to grab the seat and pull the bike back underneath you. Theoretically, you find your pedals, find the bars and ride away safely. It's all about the timing and the focus of what you're doing. If you're getting into the trick too early off the ramp, the bike moves away from you too quickly to reach out and grab it again. If you get into it too late, you're likely to catch your legs on the bars or run out of time to land it and crash on top of the bike. Ideally, you have a big gap to give yourself enough time to complete the trick.
Is the special flip something you believe you can get down consistently?
At the end of the day, I think this trick could be consistent. It's going to involve work, like anything in life, but I'm willing to commit to that. So far, I've rode away from it three times. The wheels were under me, and my body was somehow on the bike. That doesn't mean my feet were on the pedals and my hands were on the bars. I've only recently done that, and to be able to do that at a Nitro Circus Live show, it was just a real exciting time for me, and you can see that in the video. We're goofy and silly and jumping around like a couple of monkeys, but I think that's what just draws people to action sports: it's a way for athletes to express themselves and be successful at something they work hard at. So it's just been a cool experience to be able to get a taste of the success that comes with the hard work.
There's been a bit talk about you bringing the special flip to X Games. What's your take on that?
For me to experience something like that would be such an honor. It would just be something I know I could completely commit to working hard for. I recently stumbled upon my first sponsor, Muscle Milk, and they've been supporting me and giving me the ability to really work on this stuff. X Games would be awesome though. It would make me work hard to stick this trick.
What's next for both you and the Nitro Circus crew?
With the Nitro Circus, we've had a couple of seasons with MTV, and now we've partnered up with Global Action Sports, we're kinda in the thick of some touring. We've got our first US show in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand on June 4, and we're super excited about that. But until then, we've recently embarked on a Nitro Circus 3-D feature film. We want it to represent who we are, we want it to show people what we're about and we want it to be the biggest and the best that we've done so far. We begin filming immediately. We've got financial support, investors are on board and we are ready to go. I'm basically waiting on my plane ticket to hit the first filming location. That's what's on the plate right now.