Off-road dog Opee takes his rides to an ex­treme on owner’s bike

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

PER­RIS, Cal­i­for­nia: Opee is only eight, but he al­ready is a pop­u­lar vet­eran in the down and dirty sport of mo­tocross.

He can pull 6 Gs. He has been the cen­tre­fold for Cy­cle News and poses reg­u­larly for fan pho­tos. He is a sur­vivor of the gru­elling Baja 500 and has racked up more than 10 000 hours on a dirt bike.

Some­times, you can barely see the 30kg pooch – a blue merle Aus­tralian shep­herd – through the dust on his gog­gles and his custom hel­met, com­plete with cam.

“I am his big­gest fan,” said Mike Sche­lin, Opee’s owner, race part­ner and a pur­veyor of used mo­tor­cy­cle parts from a shop next to his mo­bile home.

Sche­lin got the dog in 2001 shortly af­ter his di­vorce. He raises him with other dogs and two horses at a spread he calls Mir­a­cle Flats. Known as “The Dog­fa­ther” to some in the sport, Sche­lin al­ways takes a back seat to Opee.

“He was my in­stant best friend,” Sche­lin said. “He slept in my tool bag. There was some­thing about him. He’s had charisma since Day One. I knew I had a dog who could make a dif­fer­ence.”

Sche­lin, 41, re­alised he had a four-legged mo­tocross fan as a pet when he started rid­ing in the desert with Opee on the chase. “I felt bad for him, he would run so long.”

So Sche­lin bought a four­wheeler and they went desert rid­ing to­gether. The dog did not like the dust in his eyes, so Sche­lin got him gog­gles. One day, Opee ditched the four­wheeler and hopped on the mo­tor­cy­cle tank, where he has rid­den ever since, Sche­lin said.

If the bike is not mov­ing, Opee will just fall asleep on the tank. They keep it bare be­cause they have never found a cov­er­ing that is comfortable for the dog, Sche­lin said.

Re­ac­tion to Opee was magic. He was an in­stant ca­nine am­bas­sador to off-road­ing. Find­ing spon­sors was no prob­lem, and soon Opee had his own custom gear, in­clud­ing a spe­cially made neck brace, in­flat­able vest, back­pack, wa­ter sup­ply and sev­eral jer­seys. He re­ceived his Amer­i­can Mo­tor­cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion card and his SCORE In­ter­na­tional card, the lat­ter so he could race in Baja.

The dog does a lot of other things, too. He has been a search and res­cuer and a Cal­i­for­nia as­sis­tance dog, and he vis­its chil­dren in hos­pi­tals

Sche­lin does not go racing without Opee th­ese days. ‘I can’t go as fast without him. I can’t jump as far without him.’

with Sche­lin. They reg­u­larly work crowds at races in the area, in­clud­ing the Su­per­cross in Ana­heim, Cal­i­for­nia.

Opee ap­pears to be Sche­lin’s big­gest fan as well. “From what I see, he loves Mike and would go any­where with him,” said Ricky John­son, a seven-time na­tional mo­tor­cy­cle cham­pion who owns Per­ris Race­way near Sche­lin’s place.

Opee and Sche­lin race, but not to win. Be­cause they are dif­fer­ent and for safety’s sake, they al­ways start in the rear and they only com­pete with the cy­clist in front of them, Sche­lin said.

Sche­lin’s great­est tri­umph came when his five-mem­ber team – with Opee in the driver’s seat for442km – fin­ished the cross-coun­try Baja 500 with 10 min­utes to spare in 17 hours, 49 min­utes, 36 sec­onds… and ahead of half the pack.

“The av­er­age per­son races eight times be­fore he fin­ishes,” he said.

In the beginning, Sche­lin had trou­ble see­ing around Opee, but they worked out shifts and leans, and it is sel­dom a prob­lem now. Sche­lin also uses voice com­mands.

“When we come up to a jump, I tell him to set it up and he will drop down and give me more of a view,” Sche­lin said.

Sche­lin does not go racing without Opee th­ese days. “I can’t go as fast without him. I can’t jump as far without him. I don’t feel as safe without him. He’s be­come a nat­u­ral part of the bike with me. We have this nat­u­ral rhythm.”

Even the most skilled mo­tocross racer has a plas­ter cast past, and Opee is no ex­cep­tion. His worst crash came in the 2006 Baja 500.

“We took a spill at 75mph (120km/h) in the dirt and went into a skid,” Sche­lin said.

The dog is not at­tached to the bike or Sche­lin in any way. He skinned his nose and scraped his paw. Sche­lin sliced his leg. The in­juries were not enough to put them out of the race, though.

Sche­lin is not a only racing part­ner but stage dad for his dog, with a few goals for the fu­ture: Do a back flip with Opee into a foam pit (“he would hold on the same way I do – grav­ity”); see Opee recog­nised as the fastest dog on the planet (he has writ­ten to Guin­ness); take a tan­dem sky­dive; and go to the movies to see Opee in a ma­jor mo­tion pic­ture.

Opee, he said, is too tal­ented to go undis­cov­ered. “The only thing miss­ing is the cape.” – Sapa-AP

PIC­TURE: AP

BARK­ING MAD: Mike Sche­lin rid­ing on his mo­tocross bike with his dog Opee.

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